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Old Soul

Breton J. Prigmore

Maybe when we die, the first thing well say is, I know this feeling. I was here before. Don Delillo

Experimental medical research center sounded like an exotic technologically-advanced compound but it looked and felt more like a low-rung dentists office. The cheap movie theater carpet belched dust around his footfall and the orange peel drywall was worn smooth in various places. He looked up at the receptionist behind the scuffed glass partition. Is it bullet proof he wondered? Not likely, he thought with a punctuating snuff of his sinuses. She had been passably cordial but detached. Her stately sedate Jackie Kennedy voice implied Im so far away you cant touch me as it diffused in the droning atonal hum of the air conditioning. She seemed heavily medicated. What a firecracker she must have been before, he surmised. With his eyes he bore a hole into her forehead, focusing his full attention to a single point like the red laser sight of a sniper rifle. Surely she must feel this. Looking more bemused than ever she glanced up and fixed her own death ray on him fueled by some dark antimatter within her. He felt it like a phone book against his chest and he quickly, self consciously darted his eyes to the visually cacophonous Jackson Pollock print hung crookedly on the opposite wall. Everything about the place seemed dated but the building was only a few years old. Shit, it occurred to him finally, the forms He opened and closed the metal clamp of his clipboard a few times and set in. First his full name in his best penmanship and then increasingly worse as he went on. The address he provided was a converted 6-bedroom flop house for local musicians and drug dealers who paid the rent and was otherwise infested with couch surfing drunks, burn outs and sycophants squabbling over floor space to sleep on. Whenever at all possible he drifted on his limited charm amongst his rotating cast of tangential friends and stayed past his welcome at parties as people started passing out. Thats how he had heard about the study, through the hand out seeking fleet of undesirables who combed the city over for any embezzlement potential. Hed seen them skillfully dowsing out an unsuspecting grift with their twitching antennae feeling at subtle currents in the air. Under occupation he wrote malingerer. He was unemployed and seemingly unemployable. He

ambitiously dreamt of being the watchman at the town dump. Sitting on a stool with a stack of books, letting the time pass and turning a bleary blind eye to the foraging eccentrics. For religion he wrote pagan mysticism, although he only dimly grasped the implications. Old soul / New soul it said in bold. He encircled old soul with out hesitating. He didnt admit it to anyone but this is what really interested him most about the experiment besides the ample compensation. He had never been able to shake the guttural assertion that he had lived before. He wasnt sure how many times but at least once more than this current embodiment, perhaps many times over. No one had any idea. His struggle was unobservable from the surface but dug deep like a cavernous underground compound. He had learned to internalize and compartmentalize his conflict like a serial murderer. He bottled it up like bathtub gin and compressed it like a diamond until it was a black hole from which no light could escape. The questions were erratic in their subject matter and grew increasingly more personal, asking about objectionable proclivities and traumatic experiences. He left these blank because he couldnt bear the thought of anyone reading it, especially that surly god damn receptionist. Theyll have to drag this out of me. Does he use hypnosis? An Ether soaked hankerchief? Something he never even heard of most likely. In the section about birth marks, he wrote about the kidney bean shaped splotch on his belly and then drew its outline in the allocated box. Have you met your doppelganger? That seemed like a not yet question. Disturbances in time and space? Frequently. Having shared a communal smoke for good luck before he went in time seemed to be easing forward in a more molasses like fashion than normal. Out of body experiences? When he was young and his mother went shopping hed be left behind in the car. This would open the Russian doll system of thoughts until hed get so thoroughly out of his normal pattern of consciousness hed fretfully wonder if he could find his way back to his adolescent body. Clairvoyant relatives? His aunt, 9 years his mothers senior, was unrepentantly immersed in the occult. Even going so far as to teach him a few curses Stumble, tumble, trip & fall.

Down the stairs and hit the wall She had told him of a distant black sheep cousin who had been recruited for remote viewing studies with a shadowy government program intent on weaponizing telepathy. He felt his scalp tingle and tighten. Surely it was the lobotomized receptionist scowling at him but Dr.Cacoethes Rexroth was in the door way, appraising him. Smiling but unblinking behind enormous clear plastic octagon frames. Hes either sizing me up or trying to instill a sense of awe he thought. It was starting to work. His chin was anomalously sculpted and freshly shaved, scrubbed clean and ruddy like a politician. In opposition to this was the gentrified Native American print of his cardigan and the turquoise rings on his tan, sturdy fingers. Seemingly at will waves of warmth began emanating from him as he buoyantly moved forward with his hand outstretched. Dr.Livingston I presume? Ho! No, no, Im only joking I have no idea who you are. Thanks for coming out. In all seriousness you honor us by taking part in this experience, with his hand he lead the way down down the hall, I feel like youll fit right in with the gang. Like Carolyn out there. Isnt she nice and succinct? Working with her is like falling down a dark elevator shaft, The doctor laughed wryly but it wasnt off-putting somehow, Im sorry I got a lot of sleep last night, Mortimer was characteristically shy around teachers, police officers, and doctors most of all, resenting them while simultaneously desiring their approval. Unwilling to sound pedestrian and unable to volley in the witty repartee he flashed his best mischievous smile that seemed to suit most social interactions. Could Rexroth smell it on him? Im so glad the word is out about our little program. This project is the culmination of all my research. They are going to be writing about this in the journals for years. It nearly killed me applying for all of the grants but you wouldnt know it by the looks of our facilities here. So much bureaucracy obstructing reputable scientific endeavors. Thats why I opted to work here with my friends at the reservation. I hope it wasnt too much trouble to make it out here, It had been. Mort had to call in a favor with Helen Skelter, an old time junkie with the

Naugahyde face of a crooked fortune teller. In exchange for three Valium her common law husband Willard drove him the 46 miles there. He had the bulbous watery eyes of Steve Buscemi and none of the movie star good looks. Willard wasnt partial to most things so topics were scarce but he would at length discuss conspiracy theory presented as a stream-of-consciousness slurry of justified paranoia. They were compelling, mishmashed and magpied from various sources and set to the meter of his breathless rhythm. Mort always enjoyed the opportunity to let the other person take the pressure off himself and did his best to promptly concur as the gaps presented themselves. Willard was a clear-headed and present driver despite his hefty consumption of depressants. He was so convinced the worlds political structure was due to give way he systematically hoarded his methadone supply from the clinic in the inevitable case of a narcotic drought. He would sometimes awaken in the night and creep to the furnished basement counting row after row of Dixie cups topped with cellophane on the regulation ping pong table. The Doctor fixed him with a jewelers specialized squint. I feel from you, just my overwhelming first impression of your being, a lot of unexpressed emotions. Youre all knotted up. Your aura is friendly but poisonously vile. But thats just my medical opinion. Mortimer wasnt accustomed to direct criticism much less such a sweeping allegation but could not find the words to protest. Hed seen the same con put down by cold-reading mediums. The doctor seemed content to prattle ahead for him as a surrogate conversationalist with leading rhetorical questions. You seem to be working out your learned behavior like a typecast actor. Youre a character but the wrong sort, he looked down at Mortimers unpressed white dress shirt, the same variety worn by petty criminals to court appearances. "Jesus Christ, Mort thought,"This diagnosis sounds pretty well-rehearsed and we havent even sat down. Hes trying to sew me up in a shoddy suit and send me down the river," He didnt admit it to

himself but in the same way as a newspaper horoscope he felt an underlying truth that unsettled him. His life had boiled down to the pursuit of a welcome distraction. He wandered down a vestibular corridor in search of a soft hazy place to lie down in. Your associate, Drederick,who signed up with us as well detailed some of your exploits and I must say it is most unfortunate, Mort stiffened in his chair. Drederick was a shameless loud-mouth crack head with no tact and complete disregard for the honor among thieves. There was no doubt his character had been slandered with self-serving embellishments and outright lies. The doctor sensed this and qualified his statement Unwittingly, as you are a fine young man Im almost certain, but you are acting out trauma that is reverberating from a past disaster. You young folks put on personalities and nebulously-defined disorders like overcoats that you cast off with a timely flourish. You cant connect with the life you have so you disassociate and burrow further into your solipsistic fantasies with out ever getting any nearer to who you are. Theres an entire culture of you malignant self obsessed dropouts and youre stealing all the man holes and copper wiring. I feel that our main priority in addressing the human condition and the undue suffering of young gentlemen like yourself is inquiry into the enduring quality of the soul and its ability to survive after death and re-manifest itself into the body of a unsuspecting newborn citizen. Mortimer felt uncomfortable. This was all diametrically opposed to the completely secular counterculture education he had steeped himself in. This new age propaganda could be damaging to his punk rock credibility. Id say it was out out of the aether like a phantom possession but it seems to be the natural process of the death cycle. Meng Po is the lady of forgetfulness in Chinese mythology. It is her task to ensure that souls who are ready to be reincarnated do not remember their previous encounters on earth. To this end she collects herbs from various earthly ponds and streams to make her Five Flavored Tea of Forgetfulness or Mi-hun-tang; which translates literally as waters of oblivion. This is given to each soul to drink before they leave the netherworld. The brew induces instantaneous and permanent

amnesia, and all memory of other lives is purged. The spirit is sent to be reborn in a new earthly incarnation and the cycle begins again. Presumably some of them slip through this process resulting in past lives resurfacing in children. Which is if not traumatic, a very disconcerting experience. Particularly here in the west we can offer no satisfactory cultural guide to explain this phenomena. Mort finally braved his first question. I completely follow you but one thing that has troubled me is if we are all reincarnate versions of another soul, how do you explain the enormous world population? There are more people on earth now than ever. Where are they all coming from? The doctor beamed proudly and started speaking a little louder. I think youll agree that there are old souls and new souls. You can access in a flashbulb burst of a moment a look in someones eyes that is timeless, or outside of time. A preternatural weariness. A spiritual progeria if you will, the disease of premature aging. There is something profound in their character that speaks to the antiquity of soul and the way it gathers baggage, helpful and toxic. Whereas the new souls seem fresh off the bakery truck unsullied and corruptible on their first trip through the loop. We all arm ourselves with defense mechanisms and postures but in some people they seem to be manicured over several life times. Theres a startling intangible presence you can feel in some people and find conspicuously absent in others. Perhaps civil war recreationists are just trying to find their way home. You are a prime candidate for this therapy. Or procedure, how ever you want to think about it. Im going to give you the antidote to the brew. I intend to cure you fully of your amnesia, to end the forgetting gradually as your psyche will allow us. Some tolerate this experience better than others. Its my professional hunch that there is more to the soul and ghosts than superstition and cut up sheets. In the brain, deep in the ridges and coral, is a microtubual lattice insulating a quantum computational dialogue with an energy field of self-aware intelligence. Our thoughts are measurable electromagnetic phenomena. In the words of Carl Sagan, the mind is a very big place in a very small space, Mortimer, eyes wide now, said It goes on forever in there

We at our inner-most points are non-corporeal entities. As my friend Terrence once said We are not primarily biological, with mind emerging as a kind of iridescence, a kind of epiphenomenon at the higher levels of organization in biology. We are hyper-spatial objects of some sort that cast a shadow into matter. The shadow in matter is our physical organism. The metaphor of a vehiclean after-death vehicle, an astral bodyis used by several traditions. Shamanism and certain yogas, claim very clearly that the purpose of life is to familiarize oneself with this after-death body so that the act of dying will not create confusion in the psyche. Some speculate that dreams are to prepare us for astral travel. Once you recognize what is happening you can make a clean break, "He sounds like a hospice counselor," Mort said to himself " Do I have some terminal disease Im not aware of?Its like hes selling time shares in the void" "I feel that primordial confusion instilled in you and I want to rid you of it, if you are willing. And pass the drug test. HO! No, no, we wouldnt have any volunteers left. We need motivated subjects. They had been standing outside the door for what seemed to be a long time before he ended his thought and opened the door. There was an old-fashioned black leather barber chair in the center of the room, several book shelves around the perimeter and a taxidermied poodle moth perched on the desk like a bewinged cotton ball. He strode to the shelf, selected a single moleskine notebook laying horizontally on top of the other books and a black plastic cigarette holder. He leaned against the desk with crisp masculine elegance,fished for matches in his cardigan pocket and began reading from the journal with a deep authoritative timbre. Dr.Duncan MacDougall was an early 20th-century physician in Haverhill, Massachusetts who sought to measure the mass lost by a human body when the soul departed the body upon death. He took his results (a varying amount of perceived mass loss in most of the six cases) to support his hypothesis that the soul had mass, and when the soul departed the body, so did this mass. The determination of the soul weighing 21 grams was based on the average loss of mass in the six patients within moments after

death. He spoke with the cigarette clenched between his teeth at the side of his mouth like F.D.R. While this particular study has been universally condemned as faulty methodology I believe it illustrates an interesting aspect of ourselves that we all undoubtedly feel but seldom give any credence There is a mysterious subterranean world of mental disorder lurking beneath accepted Freudian psychology, unaddressed by Judeo-christian beliefs and modern clinical doctrine. One of the main symptoms of schizophrenia is the hearing of voices. But what if these voices are coming from outside rather than with in? A very low-frequency, low-voltage electromagnetic signal similar in form to normal brain waves could cause the brain to interpret the signal as an acoustic sound received through the ears. Our good friends at the government looked into this trans-cranial magnetic stimulation for some sort of brain washing application. It does seem like a very effective method of forcing oneself in. Are they the first to think of this? This phenomenon is very different from hearing your own inner monologue and many sufferers continuously play loud music which they say is the only way to drown out the intrusive voices. Perhaps intelligent self-aware entities so envious of the flesh are using us to harvest our delicious and predictably manipulable emotions. Patients have long reported incidents of incubi or succubi nocturnally feeding off their sexual energy, or orgones as Wilhelm Reich would have termed it, his hypothetical libidinous biological energy force. There might be something to this as sex is the only physical necessity that can be satiated with sleep and dreams, As a graduate student I participated in a sweat lodge ceremony with a shamanic healer who took upon the visionary mantle after he too, was healed by a witch doctor, if you will. He discerned the presence of an ugly spirit a parasitic being that he said was not at all acting to my benefit. I dont want to go into details about this because I am afraid of inviting it back, but it had indeed plagued me my entire life in a nameless way. It was gobbling up everything good inside of me and spitting it back into the envelope of my skin. He wrenched it out of me with great theatrical effect like an Appalachian snake handler but I felt it depart. He invited me to the next weekend workshop, an introduction to the

ceremonial use of mescaline, which is, of course, legal on the reservation. The man even helped me edit my Masters thesis The doctor thoughtfully stamped out his cigarette. He at great length sat behind his desk, reached into the top right hand drawer and retrieved a long carved sherlock, taking several long puffs to ignite it. The stormy plumes rose up stinking of tobacco and hashish, distinctively. I feel as though I have no choice, he said with a Mid-Atlantic drawl, Its my duty to help people in the manner that I was helped. It is the tradition, or so I am told. So be back here in three days time and we can get started. Together we can illuminate the darkened corners of your mind! as if to diffuse the intensity of his last statement he slapped the desk with an open palm and quickly led the way out without waiting for a response. Carolyn was pulling on a long black coat while keeping eye contact with the clock. She heard them coming and did her best to stride to the door but was intercepted by the doctor. Ah! Rushing off to catch the wheel, eh? Its on in half an hour! She was clearly mortified that he had said this but swiftly concealed her expression and muttered something unintelligible as she squeezed through the front door with out once looking back. Mort turned to say goodbye to the doctor. He had been working on a lean one-liner to depart with but the doctor had already set off down the hallway towards his office and the slow turn of the ceiling fan. Finding himself alone, he left; at first pulling and then successfully pushing the door. Willard was waiting in the parking lot as they had planned. Sat languidly behind the wheel, his body leaned back, head hung slack from the neck mid air and halod in smoke. Smirking as if to a silent inside joke to himself most of the way asleep the cigarette still burning he sunbathed in the sickly glow of the methadone like a fat lizard under a heat lamp. He smoothly reanimated as Mortimer slid in the car. Hows your head? Has it been shrunk? It looks significantly smaller. Yeah I was worried about that. My hat started slippin over my eyes half way through. That

was heavy. Heavy duty. It was all a bunch of rhubarb though he said unconvincingly, Ivy league pseudoscience, that particular comment was intended to strike a contentious chord with Willard and inspired him to go on a tangential indictment of government-funded research programs from the CIA dosing unsuspecting employees with acid to the Mengele experiments. Can I buy back one of those Valium? Mort asked, All that interrogation got me bent outta shape, Sure I guess, when I take more than two at once I sleepwalk and one isnt nearly strong enough by itself. How much will you give me for it? he inquired with the enterprising leer of a carny. Well, Im skint right now but Ill be good for it when the check from this hippie codswallop comes in That was good enough for Willard and he brought forth the pills from the grubby breast pocket of his flannel with nicotine stained Nosferatu fingers. Dry-swallowing two himself he gave the other to Mort who held it daintily between thumb and fore-finger while looking for a mouthful of beer in one of the crushed aluminum cans that lined the floor of the Plymouth before giving up. He had terrible dry mouth left over from the grass. "Dyou think she wants a ride?" Willard teased him, pointing to Carolyn waiting, steaming impatience on the curb at the edge of the lot. "If she did, I dont think shed want one from us" There was no way his blood had carried the goods from the pill through the complex infrastructure of his veins and up to his brain but he swore he felt it kicking in. He suppressed a giddy smile as the benevolent invader took hold of his nervous system and sighed with relief. Willard went on with some filibuster or another but Morts face slipped out of focus. He wasnt sure how he would cash the check but that would be a week from now which was as distant and irrelevant to him as the moon. He eased into the warm bath of the passenger seat and receded like an office building at night with the lights going out one by one.

****** Mort woke up with a lurch fully clothed in the claw-foot tub and covered with newspapers. He had scattered them over himself for warmth the previous night before losing consciousness. He could hear movement in the other rooms after five hours of quiet. People were waking up and leaving,shuffling their things and zipping up backpacks while others settled in to nurse their hangovers with bong hits. He started to push himself up with the porcelain sides of the bath but remembered the toilet was broken so no one would be coming in to disturb him. He sank back into the papers like a pile of autumn leaves. The small one-story house was being squat in by a rival gang of skid row miscreants. They successfully kept the electricity going but the water had been shut off for months. No one ever complained they just urinated out the window and washed up in super market bathrooms. The heroin scene was always warned to bring bottle water to shoot up with and were seldomly unprepared, showing up gaunt with traveling fix kits like old house call doctor satchels. The mirror, after it had been anonymously scratched with a key in the fashion of Greyhound station rest rooms, was spray-painted a dull matte black so mort didnt worry about fussing with his hair. Staying just beneath the surface of the newspaper he closed his eyes trying to reverse-engineer his dreams. He could rarely remember them now as he generally passed out as opposed to drifting to sleep, but he tried to sift through the strange web of images. He had dreamt his stepfather was getting out of prison. A truly inevitable occurrence. Also a plane full of passengers at night, screens in the back of the headrests, their faces motionless and serene through great turbulence. Hed read that clairvoyant dreams are never of the specific event, say an earth quake. Instead the dream is the memory of when you first become aware of it through a news paper headline or news report. Instead of seeing into the future you are looking forward into your own time track, a crossing of wires in the fourth dimension of time. All events exist at once , it said, and our perception of the present as a consecutive film strip progression was an illusion of the nervous system. It was unfathomable to

Mortimer the way people regarded time as a steadfast bedrock to anchor their awareness. Time seemed to flood and dry up in temperamental fits. Every moment of his life seemed to come in irregular lengths dependent on the speed you were traveling or how much fun you were having. The brain regulated the relative passage of time with a slip knot noose around a neurochemical bladder. The disparate acts of remembering and imagining the future felt like the same mechanism as you peered into the cloudy crystal ball of the mind. You are the universe experiencing itself, he heard a crazed Elvis impersonating street performer say in an eerie moment of clarity. I am the universe riding itself on a skateboard he would occasionally think as he rolled down a hill. He recurrently had dreams of being helpless in strange scenarios. Unable to open an allimportant window or throwing limp noodle punches at oncoming adversaries that never seemed to connect. In a reoccurring routine he would mouth wordlessly with a flailing tongue attempting to articulate dire information before some sort of universal explosion. That seemed to most closely resemble his waking life. He often knew what to say but found great difficulty in saying it out loud. People took his quiet demeanor as self-absorbed indifference and didnt give it any more thought. He certainly didnt feel social now though, it was true. Having no stomach for the obligatory eye contact he rose like a swamp monster from the tub and peeked through a crack in the door. The coast was clear. He snuck with well-placed footsteps over the aftermath of the party and out the back door pulling it closed silently behind him. No one would have any idea hed been there or gone. It was still somewhat early and only a few cars drove past the long row of outlet stores behind the house. Far from the fashionable side of town the buses came irregularly and transients camped out undisturbed in sheltered doorways. He passed a gaggle of gutter punks circled round a camping griddle plugged into an outlet in the sidewalk used for Christmas lights in the winter. He pulled a crushed cigarette out of the zipperd pocket of his jacket. Dismayed, he peeled the paper from the loose column of tobacco which he then put in a smaller inside pocket. He had planned on panhandling bus fare from whomever happened to be waiting there but he found a valid transfer on the bench of the enclosure.

Recently, he had pawned a sob story for enough change to buy a ticket from a man lacking any description waiting near the end of the line toward the north end of town. He had simply handed him the change from the front pocket of his jeans with out saying anything, keeping his eyes straight ahead at the rush of cars. He had bribed Mort to shut up and go away. Not out out of sympathy but it was simply worth the money to have peace and quiet until the bus got there. Mort admired his priorities. The bus came to a shuddering halt at the stop light and swung open its door, surprising him. It came as if out of nowhere like a midnight ice cream truck. The driver snatched the thin, wrinkled transfer and squinted at the print suspiciously. Satisfied, he handed it back and called out the next stop with the antiquated gravitas of an auctioneer. Mort reflected on what Rexroth had pitched. He had been confused before the meeting but now that confusion had lost its center of gravity. Nihilism had long since been a comforting black blanket with which to smother his existential tendencies. If this patchouli snake oil salesman is right and we find something there under the layers I dont know what Ill do, he thought. Anything beyond the indifferent emptiness of chaos invited the notion something was tending the abyss on the other end. He comforted himself with the hope it was just another law of nature behind these rebirth scenarios. Just another terrestrial anomaly like the northern lights. He could feel the Loch Ness monster undiscovered within himself, something very close in time and space and yet still unknown to him bubbling up to the surface with all the looming doom of a summers end. ****** Mortimer and Burke were equal partners in an unspoken agreement. Burke had drugs and no friends and Mort was a friend with no drugs. Burke was a trust fund fugitive living in absentia. In the manner of the ruling class he employed a team of doctors, each unaware of the other, to keep him jarred and preserved in a cocktail solution suspended with pain killers, stimulants, and sedatives of every description. It was either his monstrous tolerance or an astounding feat of physiological endurance that kept

his heart beating despite the punishing waves of substances eroding at him. Perhaps he was fueled by spite towards the predominate mores of the era. He was gripped by the conviction that he was going to live exactly as he liked but it was only his inheritance that kept his head above water. In any other life hed be a cantankerous bum shaking his fist at scampering school children. He was distracted by persistent dreams of bygone eras with cocaine soda fountains and opium dens on every corner. He pined for the untamed wildness of turn-of-the-century America. Mort heard the familiar rumbling shuffle behind the door. The noise paused for a moment while it peered through the peephole and then continued with the dead bolts sliding out of place. Burke launched into a soliloquy the instant he pulled the door open. I got them on ebay! It was a small fortune not including the shipping for a case of VHS tapes, which is EXORBITANT! he shouted with his head back and titled to the light fixture as if for the benefit of an unseen microphone in the ceiling. It was hard to decypher how deep his paranoia dug. He once complained of Soviet bases on the moon with the Cold War long since over. I foiled up the windows and got some high wattage lamps, like they use for nocturnal construction sites. Im trying to create the illusion of a constant atmosphere in here. I tossed all the clocks outside, Mort had passed the shattered pile on the side walk while making his way over, If you woke up in here youd have no idea what time of day it was and youd NEVER FIND OUT! he faked the theatrical laugh of a sinister villain, Ive got every episode of Late Night with Conan OBrien on tape from some kook in Buffalo. If I play one episode a day, every day I can successfully recreate the years 1993 through 2009. Itll be like time travel. But Ill probably just play them all back to back, like a condensed form of time travel. I just got a fresh batch of Adderall so I wont even need to sleep, I bet I can cram it all in in no time. Lets see each episode is about forty minutes hmmm he trailed off and went in search of a scrap of paper to make his calculations. He came back with neither pen nor paper but instead with a nasal mask and a tank of nitrous oxide which he set on the tree stump coffee table with a dull thunk. It sounded hollow but with a very

dense concentrated emptiness. So Ive heard youve joined the other team, he murmured as he applied the rubber apparatus to his nose, The theologian hacky sackers of America. Someone has been drinking the electric kool aid, Nietzsche is rolling in his grave, he gasped, ending the sentence with a deep huff of anesthetic gas. His shoulders rose as he inhaled and then slowly lowered as if lightened or leavened with air bubbles. Was the tank full of helium instead? Mort camouflaged his rage with detached amusement. Who told you that? Drederick, the lecherous swine? Crack heads cant be trusted, not even for gossip, No, no, It was Sherman Ferguson, Willards half-brother. He says you were real impressed with that shrink, and that you were real spooked when you came back. Youre not the only one I know in this study, Mort, but youre the only one taking it seriously. You better be careful I hear that doctor is a real acid freak. That shit will make mush out of your brains. My cousin Leonard took acid one time and we never saw him again. He quit his job and moved to one of those god forsaken communal living trash heaps. Is that what you want? To sleep in a frozen chicken coup with eight hummus-slurping beat niks?! He cranked the valve on the nitrous far to the left. Well it was mescaline when I talked to him, Mort responded evenly. The situation Burke had described was only superficially different than the one he found himself in at the flop house. He was careful not to stick up for or disparage Rexroth in the event he was listening in through a Native American psychic. I havent converted to anything I just heard him out. I dont believe anything unless I see it for myself. Im going to to teach my children to worship the sun and the moon like druids, he said boisterously jabbing Burke in the ribs with his elbow. He was proportioned like Truman Capote and was one of the only people Mort could physically intimidate. Are you going to offer your guest a refreshment or I am going to have to just lay down and die? A true reflection of his transgressive culture Burke spent the smallest amount possible on room and board and splurged the rest on extravagant narcotics. He ate the cheapest food and rented the

cheapest apartment building in the city. I ran through the rest of the rations but I have some absinthe and medicinal brownies you can have. They are a bit stale but youll be bludgeoned Burke said reassuringly. He consider himself a good host even though he had very little furniture and only played crackling Jazz 45s that no one else wanted to hear. Mort enjoyed them though. The sultry haze of the music was queasily familiar. It was the distinct sensation of hearing the music again, at long last. Burke waved vaguely in the general direction of the kitchenette and Mort went to help himself. He was quite hungry and once he got the munchies it would be even worse. At the beginning of the month Mort received his food stamp benefits and lived like a gluttonous bohemian king but they never lasted long as they could be traded for other commodities at a slightly depreciated value. Mort had been interviewed recently by the Department of Human Services to determine his eligibility. The social worker on the line seemed bewildered and increasingly complacent. It says here you havent worked in 5 years, which was true apart from small time drug-peddling and washing dishes in restaurants. Are you not seeking gainful employment? Well, I find my mental health to be debilitating, but I do have a promising career in panhandling, You should attend one of our sponsored career day fairs at the community center Ill take that in to consideration Mort said without a trace of irony, Im not unemployed just to fuck with you. My five-year plan of joining the circus just hasnt panned out yet, He heard the stamp come down on the other end of the line. Approved the clerk said cheerlessly. He half-expected to find a hyperbaric chamber instead of a Frigidaire but there it was completely barren save for a half jar of Grey Poupon and the brownies. The absinthe sat chilling in a hotel ice bucket on the counter. Always one to drink on an empty stomach he opened the bottle first.

Burkes disproportionately large and perfectly spherical face swiveled into side profile and sneered, Now look, I dont have any sugar cubes or one of those ludicrous absinthe fountains so youll just have to swill it from the bottle What am I a caveman? Ive seen better emeralds on the elephants the latter half of the sentence he employed his waspish Habsburg jaw accent to great affect. Burke was always quick to besmirch the jet set upper crust that had shunned him and joined in with a tremulous Hamptons laugh. He usually viewed his own ugliness with distance and objectivity but other times it would serve as the motivation to lash out. His hedonism extended itself towards violence in a way that Mortimer could not relate to at all. Always perceiving himself to be on the receiving end of an unjustified attempt on his life he carried a heavy firearm and made idle threats under his breath Id scatter their teeth with a croquet mallet is what Id do.. but Mort was good at overlooking the faults of others. "Do you know anything about voodoo? My apartment is old enough to have a mail slot in the door and someone stuffed this in," he lifted an evelope listlessly in one hand, "chicken bones, twine, and a silver spoon. Its A CURSE!" he hissed with a storm crossing his face. " but by whom? My rent is paid in advance. I have no creditors and this isnt at all in line with collection policies. Do you know anyone whos out to get me?" "If they had any idea who you were Im sure they would be. Was there a return address?" " No, no, nothing. Not even a bloody thumb print." "You gotta work on your image, you come across like Nixon sweating through the televised debates," Burke was a public eyesore like a cellphone tower but was universally ignored in much the same way. "The Monopoly man is more sympathetic than you, up here in your debauched ivory tower" The square footage in this place is deplorable even if it was carved from whale bone like scrim shaw I think I could still afford it. Do you know any ivory dealers? I have a box of piano keys from Sherman to unload. Also, are the monopoly man and Mr.Peanut related or do they just have the same

taste in mens wear? "Oh, yeah they are two thirds of the trilateral committee. We have them to thank for all the fluoridated water" "That does it, I need to run for public office. I could pass a voodoo ordinance for the whole city I just gotta go out and press some flesh," " Like hell you are. You make Snidley Whiplash look like RFK. You give Madame Tussauds the creeps. The more you put yourself in the public eye the worse its going to be for you. Youll be buried alive in chicken bones and manilla envelopes. Not to mention the nightmare it would be for your P.R team to keep your hookers and dope out of the paper" Burke grinned sheepishly at the implication he was having sex with anyone. In addition to looking like an effeminate Don Rickles he was waist-deep in drug addled celibacy. The orgasm had long since been over shadowed by oxycontin slammed in the mainline. "In the immortal words of Aldous Huxley an intellectual is a person whos found one thing thats more interesting than sex," "Yeah, I think I can guess what the one thing is too" Burke seemed to find this less amusing. They each used the lull in the conversation to their advantage. Mort took a bite of the dry crumbling brownie and tried to swallow it with out tasting and Burke tuned into the frequency of deep forest stillness and dipped himself in it like a candy apple. The walls were mostly unadorned but there were two large posters, one for the Labrea Tar Pits and the other for the 1939 Chicagos Worlds Fair. "Why dont they have any worlds fairs anymore?" "I suppose they do but they dont invite the likes of us" "Can you imagine the spread at one of those banquets?" "You humans and your food. If youre going to spend money on a passing sense of satisfaction you ought to pay for it by the gram"

"There was a lot of zeppelin and blimp advertising at worlds fairs. They ought to bring that back as well, it shouldnt be reserved for football games and good year and all that dreck. Whats the difference anyway between a zeppelin and a blimp?" "A zeppelin is rigid like the Hindenburg and a blimp is a wimpy pressurized inflatable air ship like the one for farmers insurance" "Fascinating. Youd look awfully menacing at the helm of a dirigible. Were you a tour guide at the air and space museum in a past life?" This was usually just a figure of speech but the concept was preoccupying him. "I refuse to answer that." Mort saw a glimmer of vulnerability in his pitch-black resolve. He stretched as far as he could to the radio and flipped it on to NPR. The soft murmur of the broadcaster had the sedative dart effect of warm honey gargled in his ear. I like the radio because you can close your eyes and its like youre there or no where at all Mortimer was the center of a nebulous cluster of stoners and alcoholics, functional and otherwise whod under any other circumstance never intersect. The Algonquin round table of deviants was hard to hold together but panel members were replaceable and subject to mysterious disappearance. Dealers got busted and someone else took on the civic duty and exhilarating risk. At any given time there were plenty of people to walk the streets. Burke had drifted off to sleep in the chair like the victim of a slow gas leak. Mort slipped out with out rolling him and his medicine cabinet for all it was worth. He didnt want to burn the bridge but he liked to think it was because he was better than people made him out to be. ****** A ping pong ball in halves rested on his closed eyelids. The unmistakable ring that accompanies soundlessness filled the small interior of the booth. Mort had never been in a tanning bed but he imagined this is what it felt like. Hed like to have one at home but with bulbs that gave off whatever the opposite of ultra violet light was in inky black emanations. Something like a dark room for

photographers to develop himself in. The makeshift intercom speaker gilded Rexroths voice with a grainy crackle. "Testing One, two, Number 9? Number 9? If you can hear this youre already dead," two dry mouth lingering beats like a hack comedian "just kidding! Is this a test subject or an oil painting?No, really though, Youre a good sport, hang in there," Mort didnt mind the wait, it was tranquil. He shifted in his skin like a sand dune settling. The first test of the day had been focused on scrying, the act of crystal gazing or in this case staring into a mirror. They had waited the full 45 minutes they had set aside with Mort straining to see anything but his own reflection, hideous after so much self-analysis reflected back to him. He had suspended his disbelief and peered as intently as he could unfocusing his eyes and clearing his mind. Nothing came out the door seemed to be locked from the inside. He felt embarrassed. The form in front of him was empty and insistent like a blinking cursor. "Im sure the last guy saw something. Maybe Im just not creative enough," he thought. He scribbled " N/A" on the center of the page. He didnt care for that but here in the booth there was no one breathing down his neck. He remembered an article about the hug box a deep pressure device made of two hinged side-boards in a v shape that provided even compression across the body. It was based on the squeeze chute they use to inoculate cattle but it was found to soothe overstimulated patients within the autism spectrum. He wasnt sure what it said about himself but he found the idea of the box appealing. "Were sending you a thought now, Mortimer. Its a shape." "Two dimensional or three?" No answer. Mort sent out brain waves of his own like echo location to bounce off what ever was coming and return to him. Radio static. "Trapezoid rhombus." Nothing. "The outline of a bat. A Coca Cola bottle" A chrysanthemum bloomed in his third eye. "Elephant. Napolean HatHitchcock silhouette" Rexroth had shown him the

zenner cards earlier that day and explain their significance as the tool of the trade for testing extra sensory perception in an analogous way to the Rorschach ink blots. A circle, a cross, waves, a square and a star. None of these presented themselves instead a shape shifting amoeba whirling out arabesque tendrils like an angry octopus. This was the control test. Soon hed be dosed with experimental substances meant to enhance his paranormal perception. This is what he had distilled from the 35 minute lecture from the Doctor. The government had spent years combining psychoactive chemicals like the large hadron collider in an attempt to cultivate truth serums, brain washers, and mind control compounds. Those that failed might have some unforeseen therapeutic use and were bottled and shelved for some one like Rexroth to get his hands on. He had scanned the release form for anything interesting the controlled administration of intravenous hypnotic medications or narcoanalysis may be used to procure diagnosticallyor therapeuticallyvital information, and to provide patients with a functional respite from catatonia or mania But what about manic catatonia? he asked himself dourly entertaining the notion of throwing a fit in exchange for an intravenous dose of Ativan. ****** Riding the bus felt natural. There was an inherent sense of purpose and destination with out any commitment. Headed east until further notice. At any moment you could rip the pull chord like a sky diver and flee out the back door to an awaiting convenience store and gather your thoughts in the magazine rack. Totally anonymous. Scruffy but easy to overlook in a once over. His face was the combined effect of several vague attributes. Pedestrians he encountered would be hard pressed to describe him to a police sketch artist. Rat faced or misshapen might come to mind. He wandered the college campus grounds amongst the student body and secretly apart. Young enough to pass but he could never lose himself enough to forget he didnt belong. A trespasser in plain clothes disguise. He

studied their unguarded faces like a method actor looking for intent and neurosis in every mannerism. He listened in on whispered conversations in the the two story library where the students would study between classes. Floating freely and unmoored in an inconspicuous bubble cushioned by the permissiveness of others and the benefit of the doubt hed read for hours at the fold up tables in lieu of a park bench or unlocked car. It was easy to freebase in the restroom with the only staff being distracted volunteers with little interest in snooping. The malodorous stench of the bottle return was of unnumbered stale beers spilt indiscriminately on every surface. The concrete and the automated receptacles were covered in a sticky coca cola corn syrup film. Everyone was there for want of funds and the driving motivation of vice. A line had already formed and those in front of him had taken their cash vouchers and returned with lottery tickets, cigarettes, and 40s of malt liquor at 7:35 on a Tuesday morning. Mort could feel the old man in the wind breaker staring at him territorially. "Ill let you go ahead of me but you gotta give me all your bottle caps thats my fee" the old man grinned warmly with the hatchet gash that served as his mouth. "You betcha" Mort felt the tension dissipate and felt an instant relation to this old sport like a grizzled co-conspirator in the unwaged class war. $7.44. Just enough. He had two over flowing handfuls of bottle caps and passed them into the basket the old man made with his t-shirt. His face lit up with two sunken animatronic eyes as black and sparkling as the devils watch fob. He approached the point of rendezvous on foot. His feet scuffed rhythmically in clunky brown wing tips. The rubberized heels were rubbed down like eraser stumps; his right leg slightly longer than the other. An abandoned miniature golf course run down and mossy stood rusting behind a chain link fence with no lock. The path was meandering as it wound around a ponderous sphinx and a wind mill turning lethargically in the breeze. It was like a rejected setting idea from Scooby Doo. Perhaps an old codger was only pretending it was haunted to spook teenagers away from his potential land development deal. There was a condemned roller disco across town with a similar atmosphere where

under age drinkers would drain space bags of wine on school nights. "The man" was waiting with his headphones on, arranging gravel with the toe of his shoe like a ham-fisted zen garden. Adorned in the requisite small time drug dealer track suit he shoveled flat, blue debris from beneath his long Howard Hughes finger nails with a Swiss army knife. He momentarily lifted his fore-arm at the elbow and put it back down in a half-hearted gesture of recognition. By the time they had shaken hands the transaction was half way completed. "Can I Interest you in a smoke?" Mort offered as prescribed by the agreed upon script. The pack was nearly weightless from the absence of cigarettes but the money was tucked and folded inside. The cost had been predetermined and the dealer pocketed it smoothly with out looking. This was a side-effect of familiarity but it was still inadvisable to trust anyone. "Why do I even bother paying him? I ought to just take the bag and split next time" he thought but he was held captive in the relationship by the unusual quality of the goods. The purchase routine was thoroughly rehearsed and performed for no witnesses. The course was deserted. Even the street urchins left it alone for fear of golfing specters. "This shit is the best dope in town, man" the dealer said "there was a bust on Thursday so everyones been dry but Im still slinging the heavy weight. That shit downtown is more stepped on than a dance floor. This is the last week though man, you can go ahead and forget my number, Im getting out of the game. Im going back to school" Mort nodded appeasingly. What are you going to study? "Im gonna be a drug abuse counselor they have a program at the community college. Or maybe a pharmacy technician," The irony was entirely lost on him. Mort lied and said hed delete his number. He hurried off the way he came in nearly stumbling on the encroaching underbrush ensconcing the diminutive castle and moat.